Balkan Film & Food Festival – Pogradec, Albania

Pogradec, lake Ohrid, Albania (by Milana)

This is a town I have never even heard of before we got invited to participate in the 6th edition of the Balkan Film and Food Festival, taking place in Pogradec, Albania.

Here’s the backstory: last summer, Kruno shot this short documentary during the documentary workshop taking place at the Supetar Super Film Festival. Together with the editor, advisor and our good friend Zlatko Zlatković, we searched for a topic that was close to our heart.

Serendipitously enough, a few weeks before this workshop, we discovered vitalac, a traditional Brac lamb dish and voila! The film was born, sparking a new passion in Kruno of which you’ll hopefully see more soon.

We were not expecting much when we applied to numerous film festivals, for the heck of it. Almost forgetting the applications, a month and a half ago the invite came to join B3F because they would be screening our film. Wohooo!

We’ve never been to Albania, so we had no idea what to expect. I heard the seaside is gorgeous, but what about the famous lake Ohrid? We knew of the historic old town of Ohrid, in Macedonia, but nobody ever talked about the Albanian side. Having been involved in organizing a film festival for 8 years though, I knew we were in for a great time.

The moment we entered Albania (on foot, from the Macedonian side, because the taxi will leave you at one side of the border and the taxi from the other country will pick you up on the other side) you could tell that this will be an experience of extremes. The first thing I noticed was the new, wide road along the lake coast, in stark contrast to the many rundown buildings we were passing by. Or the view of the magnificent lake below, glistening in shades of blue that you could almost mistake it for the Adriatic Sea.

It didn’t take long to start feeling at home in Pogradec. Actually, it felt just like the Croatian coast, but some 30 years ago with its kids running along the lake shore lined with stalls selling cheap plastic toys and balloons, accompanied by music coming from the amusement park. Isn’t this what summer was like when I was a kid, I thought to myself, making a mental note to ask my parents when we get back.

Indeed, Pogradec feels like it’s stuck in time and space. Or maybe it belongs to a different space, one where there is no urban planning leaving you with a city that has expanded with no rhyme or reason. As tall hotels mix with the remnants of once spectacular, government  erected villas (Pogradec was a favorite vacation spot of the communist dictator Enver Hoxa), so does the dust of new construction get mixed with the smell of “produkte zgare” (grilled anything) on every corner, making you lower your pace and get something to eat.

This town has that charm of a place that hasn’t been discovered yet by anyone else than the local population, a place where old men still play dominos every morning on the lake walkabout, where the local farmers come downtown every morning with their bikes carrying whatever the garden had to offer that day. A place where tiles are broken and cobblestones are missing, but where you will find local artists and small galleries filled with art created by local people. It is a place where, on one hand people are super proud of its magnificent lake, citing its uniqueness and biological diversity, while at the same time proudly offering its endemic (and in Macedonia protected by law) fish on their menus.

Despite and because of all of its differences, we had a wonderful time in Pogradec. We hung out with many wonderful people from the region, filmmakers who do not look back at the past but into the future, knowing we are all battling the same issues in life and art. We also met new friends from the west to whom we tried to explain what this term “Balkan” means, how people from an area filled with so much controversy and differences can at the same time be so similar. How Serbs and Croats and Bosnians can drink rakija and hug and laugh over the political situation in each one of their respective countries, at the same time listening to Macedonians and Greeks laugh over the irony of their own conflict that is over 2000 years old and will probably persevere for another 2000 years, but doesn’t really matter to anyone except politicians trying to score points for the next election.

 

Balkan Food Film Festival – a couple of personal thoughts (by Kruno)

The screenings were finished for the day, beer coupons were diminishing as the rowdiness and merriment were reaching the peak well after midnight when I recalled a statement by one experienced journalist claiming that the amateur chess players are the only true chess aficionados. He claimed that only they sincerely enjoy the game, discovering and rediscovering new moves each turn, genuinely surprised at how the game develops deeply pondering each move (even when the professional on the other side already knows exactly how the game will end).

This is how I felt in Pogradec with all the enthusiastic young filmmakers, many of whom (including myself) were basking in thrills of having the fruit of their toil be publicly shown for the first time ever. As the saying goes, you always remember the first time.

And, by Auguste and Louis!, some of the films shown were far from being amateur. I feed the need to point out some of my favourites (please forgive me all others, since I haven’t seen all of the films). I hope you will still have the same energy and enthusiasm walking down the red carpet of Cannes 😀

Wish to wash with the rain

A wonderful poetic narrative by Turkish Gülten Taranç about the pressing issue of domestic violence towards women in Turkey. The film heavily relies on the use of music, which was composed by Gülten’s mother and played by the director herself (clever cameo appearance). Brilliantly directed and edited, plot comes with a twist which distinguishes Hollywood fast food film culture from European tradition.

Dinner for few”

Deeply disturbing short animation for anyone who cares about this world, this dystopian mirror image of our society vividly depicts the economic and political ties that are driving our everyday life. In my opinion, should be a part of every educational curriculum. More than 70 international awards for Nassos Vakalis, well deserved.

Handle me well

Dušan Babić made “the stupidest film” of the festival. Everyone loved it!

He also snapped a lot of amazing photos, some of which we used in our gallery. You can check out his entire Pogradec gallery on this link.

Balcony

Take Jiří Menzel’s classics, transpose them into Balkans and condense to a 10 minute mish-mash of hilarious stereotypes being astonishingly well rounded in Lendita Zeqiraj’s single-cut comedy masterpiece. Literally cannot remember when was the last time (if ever) the crowd at the cinema was genuinely laughing so much.

Yugoslavia

The Gogić brothers entered another film (Salacoius), but I like this one better. Looking forward to your future works.

Fifth Quarter

Even though it didn’t get any awards, this one is very close to my heart – because I made it. 😀 Putting it here because due to some technical error it was played without subtitles – so, whoever is interested in what those people were rambling about while impaling succulent pieces of lamb on a skewer – check it out here.

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